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RTÉ One, Wednesday, 8.30pm
The Consumer Show

Series 6 Programme 5

The Consumer Show

ITEM 1: Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer...
This week on The Consumer Show, Ella McSweeney speaks to three families affected by Carbon Monoxide poisoning, either through the death of a loved one, or a dangerously close encounter themselves. We look at the new legislation that came into force on September 1st 2014, which requires CO Alarms in all new dwellings and where new or replacement open flue & flueless combustion appliances (stoves, open fires, boilers etc.) are being installed. We also look at how you install the alarms, as it is crucial in the detection of Carbon Monoxide.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless and poisonous gas which unintentionally kills an average of six people each year in Ireland, according to the HSE, though it is believed that the figure could actually be a lot higher. Many more end up in hospital poisoned by the deadly fumes.

Evelyn Andrews and her daughter Katie suffered from Carbon Monoxide poisoning in their Co. Meath home in October 2013. A crisp bag that been had thrown into the fire before they went to bed had been sucked up the chimney and blocked the flue, causing carbon monoxide to come back down the chimney and fill the house with the poisonous gas. Fortunately Evelyn woke and she and Katie were treated in hospital for Carbon Monoxide poisoning.

Others were not so lucky. At Christmas 2008, twenty year old Padraig Hughes from Mayo died from carbon monoxide poisoning in his family home. Padraig's father, Cathal made the horrific discovery on Christmas morning when he called his four children and his twins Padraig and Emma who slept in bedrooms beside each other would not wake up. Emma fortunately survived the carbon monoxide poisoning incident, but Padraig sadly had succumbed to the deadly gas. It was later established that the boiler in the family home had blown and filled the bedrooms with the lethal gas as Cathal's children slept.

Cathal has been a hugely active fighter in the campaign to make Carbon Monoxide alarms mandatory in new built homes and when replacement appliances are being installed, which was finally introduced six years after Padraig's death.

Bernadette MacCarthy from Cork lost her boyfriend Alex to carbon monoxide poisoning in 2008. The source of the poisoning was a gas cooker in the apartment.

"His life was cut short in such a cruel, unnecessary way and to think that if he just had one little alarm, he would probably be still here today."

Carbon monoxide is a by-product of the combustion process that a fuel goes through when it burns. Coal, turf, wood, oil gas all can produce carbon monoxide, which is quite safe when it is going up a chimney or flue and out into the atmosphere.

For as little as ¤30, CO deaths could be prevented with the purchase of a Carbon Monoxide alarm for your home.

ITEM 2: Battery Anxiety
Tadhg Enright asks the nation about their battery anxiety, that 21st century condition in which mobile users fret about whether they'll be left with a dead phone.

Tadhg said: "It's that sinking feeling you get when halfway through your busy day, there's well under half your battery left on your phone and nowhere you can plug it in."

88% of mobile users won't leave home without their mobiles, according to a survey carried out for The Consumer Show by Edelman Ireland. 84% of us have changed our behaviour to keep our batteries from dying. 8% of people who answered our survey actually went home rather than stay out with friends so they could charge their phone.

Mobiles are no longer just tools for calling and texting with web-browsing, email, photography, social media and a plethora of apps all draining their batteries. Dr. Kevin Ryan from the University of Limerick told The Consumer Show: "If you look at your phone that you had 10 years ago and the phone you have now, the battery is probably the same size, but the applications that it's running are probably a lot more."

From turning off data to putting their phones in aircraft mode, there are many ways for mobile users to preserve their batteries throughout the day. Jim O'Brien, from Techbuzz Ireland told The Consumer Show about his top tips: "Turn off your location settings would be one, turn off background applications which are updating by themselves would be two, and your light on your screen: sometimes people have their screens very bright which wears down the battery."

51% of people who answered our survey said that battery life was an important consideration when choosing a new mobile phone, second only to price.

The Consumer Show visited the University of Limerick where researchers in its nanotechnology lab have made a scientific breakthrough which could help double the capacity of mobile batteries. Dr. Kevin Ryan, whose been leading the research said: "What we're doing is developing the next generation of lithium ion batteries. What we're trying to do is improve the performance of those batteries so they can last longer and deliver more energy for your device."

Tadhg will also show consumers some of the other cures for battery anxiety including mobile charging devices and the latest wireless charging technology which could be coming to a café near you soon.

ITEM 3: Health Insurance
The cost of whatever health insurance plan you choose has been the same for everyone, regardless of your age, sex or state of health. It's called the Community Rating System. But it's about to change.

Every one of the more than 380 insurance plans offered by the four health insurers use this system, which is based on younger people, who get sick less often, subsidising the cost for older people. But since the economic downturn many young people have cancelled their health insurance payments.

Which means the system isn't working.

After April 30th a new system called Lifetime Community Rating begins. It's aimed at encouraging more young people to get on board.

If you don't have health insurance, and you sign up at age 35 or over, you'll pay an extra 2% and another 2% extra every year thereafter. So if you're joining up at 40 you'll pay 12% more. Sign up at 50 and you'll pay 32% more.

So if you don't like the sound of that, and you're over 34 and in the market for health insurance, it'll be a lot cheaper if you sign up before the deadline on April 30th.

Will consumers get credit for previous health insurance cover held?
Yes, the legislation allows you to get full credit for cover already held as an adult either on someone else's policy or on a policy in your own name. For example if you are 50 years old joining on 1st June 2015, you should be liable for a loading of 32% (50-34 x 2). However, if you had cover some years back for 10 years, then your loading will be 12%. The onus will be on the customer to prove to the insurer that you actually had this cover in place previously. Your previous insurer(s) should have records of this and all health insurers are working on a data-sharing mechanism to help customers source information regarding previous cover.

What about if you've been on someone else's policy - such as your spouse?
You will get full credit if you have been named on someone elses policy as an adult. In other words you will be treated the same as someone who has a policy in their own name.

What if someone takes out the cheapest plan possible prior to 1st May 2015, will they get caught if I upgrade to a much higher plan in the future?
No, once you have a health insurance plan in place prior to 1st May 2015, the age loadings will not apply. However, if you upgrade your cover in the future, you need to be aware of the 'Upgrade Rule' which applies across all health insurers. It basically means that if you upgrade to a higher plan in the future, all insurers are entitled to restrict your cover for any existing medical conditions to your previous level of cover for at least 2 years. In other words, don't upgrade your cover when you've been diagnosed with a medical problem that you need to get treated now!

What would you say to consumers who are thinking of waiting for universal health insurance?
UHI means that everyone will be required by law to take out private health insurance. Government policy is to introduce some form of UHI but this is likely to be 5-10 years away and there's no certainty that it will be introduced - new Governments don't always introduce the plans of their predecessors. Even when it is introduced, there is no guarantee that some level of age loading won't apply to avoid discriminating against those who join now to avoid the loadings. In summary, UHI is a long way off and we're stuck with the current system for the time being.

Are these low cost plans worth buying at all - what do they cover?
Firstly, it's important to note that there's only so much cover you will get for ¤400. They cover the public hospital charge of ¤75 per night (¤750 max every 12 months). They also cover the private charge in public hospitals of ¤813 per night (up to 180 days per annum for most treatments). If you use your cover to go privately in a public hospital, then this charge will apply which is fully covered by these policies.

If consumers opt for the low cost options it is likely they would have to pay an excess when they attended the hospital, which could mean anything from ¤250 to ¤500.

Isn't it true that with these plans there are no guarantees patients will jump the queue and they can face a waiting list?
There is only so much cover that a consumer will get for a premium of around ¤400. For anyone who wants the best deal, if they are looking for cover in public and private hospitals, they should be looking at a premium of around ¤890 a year per adult. People should never go into hospital without checking in advance with their insurer what they are covered for.

If someone over the age of 34 can't afford to buy private health cover now, what are the options? Private health insurance is optional. All residents are entitled to receive public in-patient and out-patient hospital services. The biggest myth amongst consumers is that public treatment is free. Unless you have a medical card, you will be charged ¤75 per night, ¤750 maximum every 12 months. For those consumers who can't afford health insurance but want cover towards everyday medical expenses, they should consider a health cash plan. Whilst these are not substitutes for full private medical cover, they do provide refunds on a whole range of routine expenses such as Dental, Optical, GP, Consultants' fees, Physiotherapy and many more. They also give cash allowances for day-case and overnight stays in hospitals. For example the HSF FDA scheme gives ¤80 cash-back for up to 40 nights spent in hospital in any one year which means you would be fully covered for the public hospital in-patient levy.

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